A group of local doctors and dentists is gearing up to purchase a 30,000-square-foot property on Bee Caves Road in West Lake Hills for the construction of a medical office building.
The proposal came before West Lake Hills City Council during the April 14 meeting and was met with concerns from nearby residents, business owners and council members—ultimately causing the developers to withdraw their application.
A denial from the council would have prohibited the developers from submitting an application with the same variance request for at least a year. In light of this regulation, the applicants pulled their proposal from consideration.
The site previously under consideration is located at 3423 Bee Caves Road and would feature a two-story, 15,000-square-foot medical office building with 15-foot ceilings and a parking garage, according to the city’s staff report.
The building would require several variances and as a result previously received a unanimous denial from the West Lake Hills Zoning and Planning Commission. The plans require the removal of six trees 14 inches in diameter or greater and would surpass the city’s maximum impervious cover allotment.
Most notably, the proposed building exceeds the height limit of 30 feet permitted under the site’s B1 zoning, which is authorized for what the city describes as light commercial business. The office building was presented at 54 feet tall at the south elevation and 37 feet tall in the building’s northwest corner.
The height variance presented itself as a large challenge for City Council members, including Mayor Linda Anthony. She acknowledged many office buildings throughout the city are past their prime and said eventually this property will eventually be purchased.
“However, I am really struggling with the height issue, and I can’t wrap my head around there actually being a hardship that would get a building to 54 feet in height. It’s just way too big a leap from what our code allows,” Anthony said.
Perhaps those most impacted by the proposal are the owners of the four schools currently located on the tract of land: Primrose School of West Lake Hills, Sandbox ABA and Acton Academy West.
The potential new owners of the site are not proposing to demolish the schools, some of which have multiple years left on their leases.
“[The doctors] wish to keep all of the schools on the site and continue operating as long as they’re able to,” said Peter Narvarte, vice president of Central Austin Management Group, representing the applicants.
Still, the school’s owners expressed concerns over the impact on their students. Sandbox ABA owner Rebecca Ryan spoke during the April 14 public hearing and cited safety concerns as the driving force behind her objection to the development.
She said Sandbox provides therapeutic treatment for young children with autism. Ryan said due to sensory challenges and a decreased ability to understand language, her client base requires a specific type of environment.
It took Ryan nearly seven years to find the right location to found Sandbox, and she said the expected increase in traffic and construction noise raises concerns regarding the safety of her students.
“I appreciate the fact they reached out, but I’m not persuaded that the mitigation efforts that they’re trying to put in place are going to help us,” Ryan said. “This location was built as a retreat for education.”
Narvarte said he preemptively spoke with surrounding business owners and neighbors regarding the doctors, who have served the community for roughly 30 years.
“The doctors and dentist that I’m representing will be the owners and operators on the property and are motivated for a safe and secure site,” Narvarte said.
Following council’s discussion, Narvarte agreed to resubmit a new application, potentially requiring fewer variances, for consideration in the future.